Bunkong Tuon: A Review of True Confessions: 1965 to Now By John Guzlowski

 

 

True Confessions: 1965 to Now
John Guzlowski

Paperback: 151 pages
Publisher: Darkhouse (March 13, 2019)
ISBN-13: 978-1945467172

John Guzlowski’s True Confessions: 1965 to Now is an autobiography in verse. Ranging from lyric to narrative, sonnet to free verse, elegiac to humorous, the poems have a central “I” that takes the reader into six decades of the poet’s life. They explore topics such as drugs, booze, and rock n’ roll, love (from the young and reckless to the more mature kind), teaching, parenting, Americana, the arts of poetry, and, ultimately, death. His mother and father who survived German work camps during WWII also make their appearance here as an elderly couple re-living the horrors of the Nazis in the blazing heat of Arizona.

Guzlowski writes with such honesty, humor, wit, sadness, and hope. Above all, he writes with clarity, truth, and humility. Take, for example, the poem “Grieving.”  

Robert Frost’s poem “Home Burial” moves me,
but some of my students are freaked
by the thought of the baby’s coffin in the parlor,
the mom in the poem who mourns too long.

“Get over it,” they say. 

Get over it?

On his death bed, my dad was still grieving
for his mom who died when he was five,
and I’m still grieving for him ten years
after his death. Grieving doesn’t stop
like a TV drama you can turn off.

Forgive me for telling and now showing
but this pain I feel for my dad and the pain
he felt for his mom are what connects us all,
as sure as the turning of the earth.

No apology is necessary here. His poem simply works in spite of the fact that (or maybe because) Guzlowski admits breaking the “show-don’t-tell” commandment for writing. The poem’s honesty, emotion, and heartfelt conviction in truth propel it forward and bring readers to an understanding of grief that connects us in our humanity.

Like his forebears (which include Whitman, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Frost, with some Dickinson, Eliot, Bellow and Faulkner thrown in), Guzlowski’s voice is that of the common man, one that invites readers into his world and entrusts us with his heart and soul. That’s the power and beauty of Guzlowski’s poetry: stripped of linguistic experimentation and the artifacts of academic theory, his poetry brings us to real and genuine human connections: love, hurt, anger, loss, joy, silliness, absurdity, hope, acceptance, and more. 

If you haven’t read Guzlowski, buy this book; you will be in for one wild joyride. John’s energy is vast, imaginative, and liberating. Afterward, buy his other books, especially those about his parents, particularly Echoes of Tattered Tongues and Lightning and Ashes. Those books are raw, unflinching, and so very full of love (the love of a child for his refugee parents).

 

About The Author: Bunkong Tuon is a Cambodian-American writer, critic, and teacher. He is the author of three poetry collections: Gruel (NYQ Books, 2015), And So I Was Blessed (NYQ Books, 2017), and The Doctor Will Fix It (Shabda Press, 2019)His poetry recently won the 2019 Nasiona Nonfiction Poetry Prize. He teaches at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

“War? Rumors of War?” “By John Guzlowski

Armentieres_after_Bombing,_May_1940_Art.IWMARTLD175

 

War? Rumors of War?     

 

     There’s been a lot of talk in the news about the possibility of war in Iran and the Middle East.  Some people are talking about why we need to go to war with Iran, and some are talking about why war with Iran is a mistake.  

     I’m tired of war.

     I’ve lived through the Korean war, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, the war on Terror, the Afghan War, and the Iraq War. And this list doesn’t include all the little bitty wars I’ve lived through, like Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, and it doesn’t include all those other little bitty wars I’ve forgotten about and that only the dead remember.

     War is a terrible thing.  I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned from my mother and father and from writing about their lives and the experience of other Poles in World War II.

     In my poem “Landscape with Dead Horses,” I talk about the way the war began in Poland on September 1, 1939.  Here’s what I say:

War comes down like a hammer, heavy and hard
flattening the earth and killing the soft things:
horses and children, flowers and hope, love
and the smell of the farmers’ earth, the coolness
of the creek, the look of trees as they unfurl
their leaves in late March and early April.

     This is war for me.  This is the way I see war. There’s nothing pretty about war, nothing heroic, nothing epic or Homeric.  50 million civilians died in World War II. And you can bet that not one of those deaths was peaceful, not one was a death you would want to wish on your own mother or your father or your children.

     And what I hate to admit about war – but I have to – is that sometimes war is necessary.

     I’m glad that the US went to war against Hitler and dragged him and his soldiers and followers down and tried to bury every single one of them in an unmarked and unmourned grave.

     War, as I see it, was terrible and it was necessary, but the thing I can’t ever forget is that the Germans who fought for Hitler also thought the war was necessary and justified.

    That’s one of the problems with war.

     What brings us together finally – brings together those who don’t want war and those who want war – is that we all end up scratching our heads and grieving over the chaos and the loss.

 

About the Author: John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Rattle, North American Review, and other journals.  Echoes of Tattered Tongues, his memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany, won the Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Award.  He is the author of the Hank and Marvin mystery novels and True Confessions, a memoir in poems.

 

More By John Guzlowski:

Language and Loss

From the Ashes: An Interview With John Guzlowski

 

Image Credit: Edward Bawden “Armentieres after Bombing, May 1940″ Public Domain